Salmon Falls rafting american River


Trail photos

Photo ofSalmon Falls rafting american River Photo ofSalmon Falls rafting american River


Trail stats

12.03 mi
Elevation gain
1,847 ft
Technical difficulty
Elevation loss
1,991 ft
Max elevation
743 ft
Min elevation
341 ft
Trail type
One Way
Moving time
4 hours 3 minutes
5 hours 46 minutes
September 16, 2019
September 2019
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743 ft
341 ft
12.03 mi

near Lotus, California (United States)

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Trail photos

Photo ofSalmon Falls rafting american River Photo ofSalmon Falls rafting american River

Itinerary description

The South Fork of the American River is perhaps the most commercially rafted river in the West, and it is also kayaked frequently. Multiple Class II and Class III whitewater makes this river perfect for beginning and intermediate rafters and kayakers alike. The last 5 miles of the South Fork are known as the Gorge. The two sections before the Gorge are referred to as Chili Bar and C-G.

The Gorge has a bit of everything to offer in the many Class II and Class III rapids. Simply the names of many rapids create apprehension for first-time visitors to the river. Satan's Cesspool is an amalgamation of curling waves, a drop, and holes that leave few good lines for kayakers. Needless to say it lives up to its name. Hospital Bar starts off with an easily navigable rock garden but then quickly makes your heart skip a beat as you fall into a large drop and collide directly into a colossal wave and hole, often tearing you upside down before spitting you out a couple seconds later. Lost Hat feels like a blind roller coaster when riding over the series of large standing waves. The first few are large enough that they obscure the rest of the rapid, and after cresting one wave kayakers are plunged into the next and greeted by a powerful blow of water to the face (and chest). Surprise is also aptly named as kayakers follow a beautiful smooth shoot into a wave that drops straight into an unforeseeable hole.

The flow in the lower section of the South Fork American River is controlled by the Chili Bar Reservoir dam and thus is highly reliable on flow times and days. During spring and early summer appropriate flows are often found every day, though some spring days can bring dangerously high levels (At high flows some rapids become Class IV). Late summer and fall flows for kayaking and rafting are usually only available on the weekend. From the release point at Chili Bar it takes several hours for the water to reach the Greenwood put-in. Account for the appropriate time where water will fall after release has stopped to prevent running at very low flows.

Greenwood Creek River Access is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is free to park for the day. Make sure to grab a free river permit here and attach it to your boat. ​For the take-out, park near the Salmon Falls Bridge. A $10 daily fee is required for parking at the official Skunk Hollow take-out. Many visitors park for free on the opposite side of bridge and either take out on the left after the bridge or bring their car back across after pulling all boats out. Allow 15 to 20 minutes to run shuttle each way.

Entrance into the Gorge is marked by the third sighting of the Lollypop Tree, a standalone tree shaped like a lollypop atop a hill overlooking the gorge. An easier landmark for the entrance into the Gorge is the restroom and picnic area at mile 3.8 miles from Greenwood on river left. From these restrooms the first Class III rapid, Fowler's Rock, is half a mile.


PictographPhoto Altitude 672 ft
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PictographPhoto Altitude 540 ft
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